PPTA 2018 Annual Conference Opening Address
E nga kaiako o Aotearoa…Nau mai haere mai
Haere mai ki te Whanganui a taara
Haere mai ki to tatou hui
Nga mihi koe katoa mo te haere mai.
It’s fantastic to see you all at this sell out hui. Counting all of us, our awesome PPTA staff and our honoured guests, we’ll reach 200.
And, over 1000 new members joined our waka over the last year. That’s the sign of a healthy organisation, and one worth celebrating.
When I reflect back on my life, as I occasionally do, I think in decades. I guess the first ten years of my life was the time when my brain was doing the most growing, expanding and making connections but I certainly feel like the last ten, my thirties, have been the decade where the most, and best, has happened.
A few of my highlights, in no particular order are:
Growing a beard. Truly! It seems like an emancipated adult thing to do.
Delivering my second daughter at home while we waited for the midwife to arrive. The power of that experience will never leave me.
Getting a post grad qualification in political psychology – I cannot tell you how useful that is to me right now!
My life is blessed with beautiful tamariki, my career has changed, and now I’m in front of you here today.
When I look back at the lessons I’ve learned, and the lessons I should have learned, it’s all about my connections with people: friends, whānau, colleagues, my community, my bubble, I suppose you could call it, that are important. How we fit together, how we work together in groups, how our hard edges are smoothed against each other.
My decade has been lived by my values: self-determination, social justice, equality.
Looking back at the life of the PPTA over the past ten years is the same but different. The things that have happened and the decisions we’ve made, mostly in this forum of conference, have been based on our shared values of self-determination, empathy, love, social justice and equality – and on our collective desire to do the right thing by our profession, the children we teach and the communities we live in.
That’s why it was a no-brainer, that when the earthquake struck in Christchurch, that our energies were with our whānau there. Some of you may remember the quake struck during a big paid union meeting at the Christchurch Town Hall. I can hardly imagine the horror. I do know that many of our members spread out around the city to help in any way they could. A friend cried when he told me about checking cars for victims and marking them with spray paint.
Of course industrial action was off the agenda.
Pike River was that year too.
It was right we looked outwards and gave our awhi to our whānau in Canterbury and the West Coast.
The global financial crisis was the same, in a way. It wasn’t an act of god, but by god, those greedy bankers wreaked havoc on us.
It was the start of a downward slide for many communities and community organisations. Our government used the financial chaos as an excuse to stop funding, cut funding or cap funding to our public services and NGOs. Communities were left to do more with less.
Those stresses are still taking their toll. The challenges communities are facing cross over into our classrooms – teachers jobs have intensified, and all while the resources required to support us have been squeezed tighter and tighter.
It was right we looked outwards and stood in solidarity with the communities we lived in.
It hasn’t been all doom and gloom. We are proud that, together, we have improved terms and conditions for teachers, resisted attempts to undermine us and our collective and built an even stronger and more effective union. Over the last decade, despite the adversity out there, we achieved above-inflation pay increases and even got the government to pay for our practising certificates – bringing us in line with other professionals, like doctors.
Together with NZEI we stopped bulk funding in its tracks. And our tenacity saw the end of charter schools in New Zealand. We consigned COOLs to the dustbin and won full funding for teacher refresher courses. All in all – a busy 10 years!
Many of you were here last year, when we collectively called on the government to correct the damage caused by its decade of neglect. We didn’t know which government that was going to be, at the time. Parties were still in talks behind closed doors. Our decisions then, like they always are, were based on what our members, schools, students and education system needs – not on cynical political calculations.
A year later, some things have changed, and some have stayed the same. We’ve still got a a shortage of teachers – in fact it has undoubtedly worsened – just ask your principals how their recruitment is going for next year. We are still struggling with over-assessment, red tape and box-ticking, and children are missing out on the one-on-one time they need with us. So, no change there, or at least none for the better.
What’s different is that we have a Labour NZ First Green coalition government, and we are in negotiations with them to agree terms and conditions that will, once, again make teaching the desirable profession it once was.
What’s different is that we are stronger by more than a thousand members.
What’s different is that our time is now!
Clearly, it’s not all going to be cups of tea and wildflower posies. The reality is that when working people stand up for their rights and their profession, the holders of the purse-strings get anxious, and sometimes, plain mean.
We will need to stay strong, positive and aspirational if we come under attack. We are doing what’s right, for the right reasons.
They will call us greedy. They will say we care more about ourselves than our kids or our school communities. They will say we’re lazy, and should “wait our turn”. They will say there’s no money, or that others deserve it more than us. They will say we “rolled over” under a National government.
Those things are lies. They are deliberate pieces of political spin designed to pit our communities against us, and break us.
I’ve got a message for the people who say that.
Teachers are united. We will not stop until our profession is respected and valued as it should be. Lies and obfuscation will always fall to truth, fairness, equity and justice.
Teachers bring out the best!
We’re lucky to have a Prime Minister who is absolutely committed to ensuring New Zealand is the best place to bring up a child. Her support for our mahi will be necessary. Jacinda Ardern’s government has an opportunity to transform the lives of children across the country by making teaching once more a meaningful and respected career for people to pursue.
For young people, the greatest point of contact with the public services that government delivers that they have is their teachers. We’re the ones who will actually be out there caring for, nurturing and educating the country’s children – so give us the ability to do it!
The fundamental role teachers play in our society as the guardians of our most valuable taonga – children – has had almost unprecedented visibility in the media and in our communities. In part this comes down to education being a focus in the 2017 election and the timing of Collective Agreement negotiations for both education unions.
The other part is probably because the importance of education for tamariki mokopuna and for wider society, and the growing concern of students, whānau and the profession that a decade of ‘squeeze and measure’ had damaged our once world beating education system, has seen the public catch on to what we have been saying for years
Accordingly, the need for a career framework that provides guaranteed opportunities to develop our skills, working conditions that support us to be the best we can be and remuneration that attracts and retains top quality people has underpinned much of our work over the past year.
We’ll be talking about these threads across a range of the papers here at your conference, in particular in the report from our negotiating team.
There is likely to be some spirited debate…
We have another paper on Communities of Learning, which advocates for a return to the underlying principles you voted for, because for many of us our experiences have been hampered by interference, over-engineering and a lack of real consultation.
We will be discussing another set of possible changes to the schooling landscape in the paper on the review of Tomorrows Schools. While some, like noted educationalist Mike Hoskins, believe that a competitive model that has not worked for the last 30 years is just fine, what we know is that competition has had disastrous effects and that too many young people have missed out.
A proposal for what the Professional Advisory Service signalled in Labour’s Manifesto pre-election might look like is another talking point here at Conference. The moment to push hard for a re-professionalisation of PLD in Aotearoa after decades of free market offerings of variable quality and other barriers to access is now.
This paper also links with one of three papers our hard working teachers in PPTA regions across the motu have presented here at Conference. The paper ‘Career Pathways: subject pedagogy specialists’ from Hawkes Bay argues for an alternative specialist pathway –that is neither the administrative role of HODs nor the current COL roles.
The Auckland Region (or should that be Tamaki Makaurau Auckland) has been working, and thinking, hard and has two papers at this year’s Conference: A proposed name change for the Regions and Wards of our biggest city and a paper on Teacher Wellbeing.
Following last year’s first ever bi-lingual Conference paper, Te Huarahi has a paper in both Māori and English that seeks to examine our own structures such that we can continue to support and share culturally responsive and relational pedagogy.
Seeing the dynamism and energy from networks and regions to do the mahi to produce papers on important topics is fantastic. I can assure you that PPTA’s conference papers are pored over by policy makers and have a real influence on their thinking – and of course , they set us up to be in the best possible position to respond to the challenges and opportunities that secondary schools face.
We’ve got a really impressive range of speakers here this year. From Education Minister Chris Hipkins to Ngā Manu Korero winner Jay McLaren Harris. We have Children’s Commissioner, Judge Andrew Beecroft, NZEI National President Lynda Stuart and Rachel Mackintosh, vice president from the CTU.
And just for you we have a couple of International guests this year as well – Executive member of the (three million member strong) National Education Association in the United States, Dale Lee and firm friend of ours, Maurie Mulheron from the Australian Education Union.
I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank retiring Industrial Advisory Officer Jane Benefield who has been an advocate for PPTA in the STCA, ASTCA and SPCA over a number of rounds. Jane – we’ll miss you.
I will leave you with these final thoughts.
What we do matters.
Ours is a caring profession. It’s true that the combination of excessive workload and not enough teachers to go round affects us all. It’s bloody hard work. But please remember that your work is valued – by our students, our colleagues, our parents and our communities.
Ours is a political profession. Legislators do, and must, respond to what the citizens of Aotearoa tell them. We must let them hear from us - frequently. This doesn’t mean being confrontational. It means sharing what we know to be true from our experiences as experts in the field. It means putting faces to the data. It means standing up for our tamariki mokopuna and for ourselves. Our expertise is needed. Urgently.
Ours is a powerful profession. We have the community with us. We have tumuaki and our colleagues teaching in primary schools with us. We have the solidarity of our fellow members and conferences like this to rejuvenate and inspire us.
For those of you who have sent messages about the power of teaching to the Bring Out the Best Website – Nga mihi.
For those of you who have written to MPS and decision makers - Nga mihi nui.
We’re stronger together, and the more of us who stand together, the stronger the case we can make!
Ehara taku toa, i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini
Āpiti hono tātai hono, rātou te hunga mate ki a rātou